I love Kenya. I love the elephants and the giraffes and the zebra and the rhinos and all the myriad wildlife that is so unique to this part of the planet. For me, nothing beats the exhilaration of seeing a baby elephant trying to figure out how to use its trunk or watching the graceful slow motion ballet of a running giraffe. A recent day in the Maasai Mara gave me the chance to experience all of this and much, much more.
I was in Kenya again, this time as a volunteer citizen scientist taking part in a twelve day biodiversity monitoring study with Biosphere Expeditions in the Enonkishu Conservancy. (You can read my post about this experience here; and you can read about my previous visit to the Maasai Mara here).
On our day off from data gathering, I chose the option of a traditional game drive excursion into the neighboring conservancies.
Wildlife in the Mara
We got an early 6:30 AM start to catch the wildlife as it was out and about in the cooler morning hours. It wasn’t long before we had our first sighting – a running hyena, probably on its way back to its den since they tend to be night time hunters. Then, as we drove deeper into the Ol Choro Conservancy, the full diversity of Kenya’s wildlife presented itself for our eager cameras.
As we continued into the Ol Choro Conservancy, and then the adjacent Lemek Conservancy, the full Mara savanna opened up before us. The game viewing was non-stop as the day progressed, with the animals often only a few yards away.
A Visit to a Maasai Manyata
As the sun rose to its peak and the animals went in search of shade, we detoured to a local Maasai village, or “manyata” in Swahili. We were warmly welcomed with huge smiles as all the adults came out to greet us. The men and women were dressed in colorful outfits highly decorated with the elaborate traditional beaded accessories that the Maasai are known for.
The typical Maasai village is a small grouping of mud and thatch homes set in a circle surrounded by a fence made of thorny acacia branches. The homes enclose a large open space where the cattle are kept and protected at night. During our visit though, this village commons was used as a stage where the villagers demonstrated their traditional chanting and dancing. It wasn’t long before our group members were encouraged to take part and become Maasai, at least for the duration of the performance.
While the adults were dancing, the village children were jumping along and mimicking their elders.
After the dancing, the young men showed us how they started a fire with nothing but their steel blade, two sticks and some elephant dung. In less than a minute they had a small blaze going, ready to make a bigger fire as needed.
Once the show was over, we were offered the opportunity to browse and shop for the arts and crafts made by the men and women of the village.
What I enjoyed most about visiting with the Maasai people were their completely open and unreserved smiles. We were strangers yet they treated us all like old friends.
Lunching with Hippos
Mid morning we had a brief snack and drink break under a large acacia tree. We did not have china or silver (nor did we need it), but we did have an amazingly African setting that looked like it came straight from the movie “Out of Africa”.
After our Maasai village visit, we stopped for lunch. This was also a picnic, this time with the Mara River and over a hundred grunting hippos as the backdrop. I was once again reminded how difficult it is to get interesting photos of hippos who prefer to spend most of their time under water.
Lions and Lions and Lions, Oh My!
The highlight of the day was without a doubt our three separate lion sightings. Our driver and guide Wilson easily found one of the local lion prides during our morning drive.
A group of about a dozen lions were lazing in the shade of a copse of bushes. We were able to get very close to them yet they completely ignored us. They were all just one big mass of fur and intertwined bodies so you could not easily tell where one lion ended and another one started. Occasionally one might open an eye or raise her head and give us a passing glance, but they were totally not bothered by our presence. We had to settle for photos of lions sleeping, scratching, rolling, and occasionally, yawning – more like house cat behavior than the king-of-beasts behavior we were hoping to see. Apparently, the pride had hunted and eaten in the last day or so, and they were quite content just sleeping it off.
Eventually, a few of the lions got up to go to lie down in a shadier spot and I was able to get the lions looking-into-the camera photos I was waiting for.
In the afternoon, we headed back to see if the lions were more active, but no, they were still just “lion” around, though they were moving about a bit more.
As the day ended and we were driving back to our base camp, we came across a small lion family unit made up of two sisters and three 2-month old cubs. At first they were also lying in the shade of some bushes. But it wasn’t long before they started to stir, end eventually, they all moved out into the open just a few feet from our vehicle.
We stayed there and watched this little family unit interact for a long time. It was interesting to see that neither of the two lion sisters made any distinction between the cubs. They each nursed and nuzzled all three cubs. And all the cubs treated both females like their mother, going from one to the other for affection and for food.
Seeing all the wildlife in its natural habitat just reaffirmed for me how special this part of our planet is. Nowhere else is this much animal diversity so visible and so accessible. Some studies say that as much as 70% of the wildlife has disappeared in Kenya since 1970. Through tourism and the money it brings in, the various Maasai Mara conservancies are able to continue to protect this landscape for future generations to enjoy.
To experience the wildlife in the Ol Choro Conservancy in the Maasai Mara, you can stay at the Fairmont Safari Club, the entity that manages the Ol Choro Conservancy. Alternately, another option is to stay at the House in the Wild (where I stayed) in the adjacent Enonkishu Conservancy.
Please note that my trip to Kenya was hosted by Biosphere Expeditions, but the game drive day was at my own expense. All content is my own.
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